Texas 21 — Oklahoma 63
This week’s Game of the Week is brought to you by the emotion of embarrassment. Not at the scoreline, since long-term rivalries are inevitably going to focus attention on games which are deeply lopsided. Texas has nothing to be embarrassed about, particularly given how they managed to score in the last second of the game. I mean, they might blush a little when contemplating the way their run defense allowed Williams and Clay to wander around their territory as if preparing a geological survey map. But playing up to the whistle like that has got to garner some sort of admiration.
So no embarrassment for Texas. In fact, quite the reverse: their achievement is possibly their imperviousness to being embarrassed when they’re so clearly going to be so thoroughly mullered by a team who are, not to put too fine a point on it, better at playing this game. We talk a lot about how sports are character-building, how they train young people to recognise the concept of discretionary effort as against what you were born with, and the way they involve sacrifice to achieve success. Frankly I wonder if they’re not more character-building at times like this, when a century-long tradition means that you’re in the middle of a game which you have no prospect of winning, but which matters massively to your institution. Never mind clutch, grit or the deferment of gratification, playing on in these circumstances involves a level of insouciance and refusal to recognise the patent facts which I for one will salute. It verges on grace, or sprezzatura, or something.
However, circumstances did seem to conspire in order that embarrassment might occur during this game. If that feeling has something to do with everyone being aware that social norms have been transgressed, but not knowing how to address the fact, then it was definitely present at the very end of the second quarter. Ash knew there was no point either building field position or trying to keep the ball on the ground: there were seconds left on the clock and it had to be a pass. He duly aired it out under pressure, but it landed so far ahead of the receiver who must be presumed to have been his target that he got called for a penalty. Intentional grounding.
Seriously, the refereeing staff were effectively declaring themselves unable to believe that anyone could throw that bad a pass. They were going so far as to question Ash’s sincerity, giving it as their professional opinion that the norms of college football could not contain a quarterback who threw like that without some ulterior motive. Possibly satirical, possibly subversive, possibly just the desire not to land on his backside under several hundreds of pounds of tacklers. But that pass was not going to make a fool out of them. Duly chastened, Ash tried one more play, and determinedly shortened his range. He underthrew right into the hands of his receiver’s coverage. See what I mean? That is embarrassing.
The same goes for Texas’ plucky offensive move rather too near their own goal line. This is stirring stuff, backs against the wall, laconic man-to-man material, grace under pressure. Except the Oklahoma D-line refused to get into the spirit of things, and dumped them down for a safety. It’s difficult to maintain dignity in these situations. Not that Texas were defeating themselves. On the contrary, Williams, Clay and Brown showed exceptional speed – Williams in particular showing the ability to power up the middle through heavy traffic or sprint out wide and turn the corner. Jones threw sweetly and with ruthless effect, though his completion percentage was reasonable enough to make one suspect he was taking advantage of an excellent offensive line and the space to try things when he felt like it. Like those passes into the backfield, for example.
Speaking of Jones, there was enough to tint the cheek there too. The ESPN announcers would keep going on about his weight: every time it was “a 250-pound quarterback” here and “slamming those 250 pounds into the effort” there. Apart from anything else, it’s just indelicate. Maybe he is unusually meaty for a QB, but you’ll give the poor fellow a complex. Added to which, at one point he became 255 pounds according to the announcer. Unless he did manage to put on weight whilst actually playing – and even if he did – that’s just quarterback-shaming. Totes called him fat in front of the entire Cotton Bowl. Awkward.
Cringes were also in evidence when it came to the attention of the camera that Whitney Hand, guard for the Sooners’ women’s basketball team, was present on the touchline. Hand married Jones earlier this year, though oddly we weren’t treated to any photographs of her career. Instead we got a picture of her looking surprised at Jones kneeling in front of her with a ring, and some general chat about them supporting each other, as her caption came up as “Landry Jones’ wife.” I know very little about basketball, but I don’t think that’s a position.
Admittedly Texas didn’t carry it all off without a few cracks in their sangfroid. The sloppy tackling led to a regrettable facemask out of apparent desperation, and some unsportsmanlike conduct after a play had ended (those ineluctable social norms raising their hackles again.) But they looked pretty impressive from where I was sitting. Nicely played, Longhorns.